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Freedom of Information to be restricted 13/01/07

The Department of Constitutional Affairs published the draft regulations for changes to the Freedom of Information Act in December.

The FoI Act was Labour’s baby, an idea of 25 years’ gestation while in opposition, and implemented in 2005.

Journalists, campaigners and even the occasional ordinary individual have used it being to unearth all sorts of embarrassing titbits, from the al-Yamamah arms deal to the Chequers’ guest list, from MPs’ expenses to the bill for interpreters used by public authorities to help immigrants.

So unhappy is Mr Blair that he has asked Lord Falconer to make it toothless.

The new regulations allow authorities to refuse to answer questions if the time taken to research, consult with ministers and brief senior civil servants exceeds 24 man hours.

Previously, only research time was included in this calculation. Obviously, only the most contentious (embarrassing) inquiries will require such detailed consulations and those are the ones most likely to be stifled now.

Journalists from the same newspaper or television station will also have their queries treated as if they were all the same person and will be severely limited to the number of requests they can make in any given three-month period.

You have until March 8 to register objections at:

Department for Constitutional Affairs/Electoral Policy Division
6th Floor Selborne House
54-60 Victoria Street

Please, as a matter of principle, do so. But of course, it likely to be a waste of your time. They have already set a date for implementing the proposals, and it is only 10 days after the deadline for comments!


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